By Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Illustrated by Daniel McFeeley
Cliff Street Books, 40 pp.
I don't mean to brag, but I have discovered a parenting trick that, so far, is working really well. Whenever my daughter and I are out shopping and she sees something she wants, I give it to her. Not for keeps mind you, but to carry around the store while I pick up toilet paper and lightbulbs. When it's time to go, we bring the thing back to its little home on the shelf, give it a hug and a kiss, and say good-bye. That's it. No tantrums, no tears, no begging to buy the stuffed turtle. Works every time.
Having cleared this parenting hurdle (Okay, you skeptical parents, I can hear your eyes rolling out there. I said so far. Let me enjoy my moment of triumph), I'll confess that I fully expected to be annoyed by Dr. Laura Schlessinger's latest entry in the children's lit market. When a bratty kid appears with a bratty title like "But I Waaannt It" on the cover of a book from She Who Will Not Stand for Brattiness, you anticipate the chatisement for your woeful lack of parenting prowess.
But Dr. Laura doesn't cast blame on parents. Instead, she has created the book for parents and children to read together and discuss. And to some extent, she's sucessful.
Like her first foray into children's books, "Why Do You Love Me?," "But I Waaannt It!" stars young Sammy. This time around, Sammy is off to the toy store to pick out a present for his cousin. At the store, Sammy is overwhelmed by the sheer mass of stuff that could be his. When his mother reminds him that their mission is to get a gift for someone else, Sammy melts into a puddle of tears.
Rather than use the mother as a mouthpiece to teach permissive parents a thing or two about saying no, Dr. Laura gives the story a little twist. Sammy's mom asks him why he wants all the stuffed animals he's grabbed. He responds, "'Because having them all will make me so verrry happy.' Really, said Mother. 'Let's see if that's true.'"
Fiction is subtle, of course: too subtle, it seems for Dr. Laura. Rather than let its message settle in slowly, she goes on. "'Mommy,' asked Sammy sleepily, 'are there some children who don't have even one Mr. Cat to love and protect them when they're scared?'"
Isn't it just like a 5-year-old to inquire as to the well-being of children he doesn't know? "Let's find those children and give them each one of these toy animals so they can feel loved and protected," Sammy suggests. "And just in case our kids are as dense as we are, Sammy's mom ties everything up in a neat bow. "So, honey," she says, "you see it's not how many thingsyou have that make you happy--it's how special something or someone is to you that makes you happy." Awww.
For all her talk about guarding ourselves from the pitfalls of pop culture and clinging to moral, biblical truths, Dr. Laura's message here is: Things will make you happy, as long as they are verrry special things.
In a culture that continually pushes materialism and excess on children, it would have been nice to see Dr. Laura take a strong stand against the desire to aquire. As a person of faith, Dr. Laura could have easily made her book a lesson in finding happiness in a more lasting source, say, God. Instead, she allows secular thinking to get the best of her and offers a shallow solution to a deeply rooted problem.